Steven C. Zimmerman spoke about his drug discovery efforts for myotonic dystrophy at the David Y. Gin Symposium.
Steven C. Zimmerman
Professor Steven C. Zimmerman attended the University of Wisconsin as an undergraduate. After obtaining his B.S. in 1979, he moved to New York City where in 1983 he obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He held an NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Cambridge in England and joined the Illinois faculty in 1985. Professor Zimmerman's research interests are in bioorganic, synthetic organic, and physical organic chemistry.
- biorganic chemistry; synthetic chemistry; dendrimers as drugs and drug delivery systems; molecular recognition; small molecule-DNA molecule-DNA interactions; design, synthesis, and evaluation of small molecules and polymers as drugs, drug and cell delivery agents, and imaging agents; organic self-assembling systems focusing on supramolecular polymers, novel organic nanoparticles, dendrimers biomaterials, molecular imprinting
Research in the Zimmerman group focuses on the application of "smart molecules" and "smart polymers" to problems that lie at the interface of chemistry and biology or chemistry and materials. Thus, these efforts generally involve the design, synthesis, and study of novel small molecules and polymers and work in the subfields of biomedicine, chemical biology, or materials chemistry. More specifically, our research in molecular design is to develop compounds that can: (1) serve as DNA or RNA-targeted therapeutic agents, (2) function as stable and biocompatible imaging agents, (3) act as encapsulants to carry active agents and deliver them in a stimuli-responsive manner, and (4) deliver drugs or cells specifically to diseased tissue. Students in our group can learn a range of skills from organic synthesis and chemical biology to computer modeling and advanced materials development and characterization.
DNA or RNA-Targeted Therapeutic Agents
There are a number of diseases that originate in aberrant DNA or RNA, in particular the triplet-repeat diseases (TREDs) which involve expansion of sequences within our genomes. One current effort is to develop small molecules that target CTG repeats in DNA or their CUG repeat RNA transcripts, both of which cause myotonic dystrophy type 1, the most common form of muscular dystrophy. These smart molecules are designed to enter the cell nucleus, bind the target DNA or RNA specifically and operate to reverse the deleterious effects of the expanded repeats.
There is a critical need for fluorescent probes and MRI contrast agents that are nontoxic, long-lived, and extremely bright (fluorophores) or that provide exceptional contrast (MRI). Another challenge is developing "monovalent" agents, probes that can be linked to a single targeting agent (e.g., antibody, ligand, oligonucleotide, etc.). We are developing small molecules, polymers, and nanoparticles that fulfill these criteria and applying them in both in vitro and in vivo settings.
Degradable Polymers and Novel Delivery Systems
Polymeric materials that can degrade rapidly and completely in response to specific stimuli such as light, heat, pressure, and pH are being developed as novel encapsulating materials. The goal is to create thin, spherical shells that hold and protect their contents indefinitely, yet instantly release their cargo upon the appropriate stimulation.
Drug and Cell Delivery Systems
This effort focuses on the targeted delivery of stem cells or drugs to diseased tissues. The approach we are taking uses smart self-assembling materials, for example polymers that can coat the surfaces of stem cells and display peptides that target inflammation, or self-assembled particles that can be tracked in vivo as they travel to the target site and then release their cargo of drugs.
Distinctions / Awards
- Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Leadership in Diversity
- Fellow, American Chemical Society
- Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, American Chemical Society
- Buck-Whitney Award, Eastern New York Section of American Chemical Society
- Presidential Young Investigator Award, National Science Foundation
- Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
- Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award
In The News
The 2015 Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Leadership in Diversity was given to Professor Steven Zimmerman.
Graduate students Long Luu and Lien Nguyen, with U. of I. chemistry professor Steven Zimmerman, developed drug compounds that target three pathways associated with myotonic dystrophy type 1.
When Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Hyunjoon Kong, graduate student Cartney Smith, and colleagues set out to improve MR imaging (MRI), they turned current contrast agent technology on its head—or rather, they turned it inside out.
A DNA-based glue has been developed by scientists at the University of Illinois, US.